King (left), Haendel (centre three), Brynner (right)

Arthur King (1921–1991)

Ring (left), c1962

18 carat gold (unmarked), set with three uncut emeralds and five diamonds

Three uncut emeralds from Bogota are caged in cast gold tendrils and irregularly set with five diamonds; a marvellous early example of King’s exuberant, irrepressible style. The setting and the stone interact with one another in an organic way. King responded to natural, asymmetric forms in pearls and stones, designing his settings to flow around them and so show them off to perfection. After he had cast a mount using the lost wax method, he would throw away the mould so that each jewel was unique.

King himself was a true original who was entirely self-taught. He started in the US Merchant Marine by experimenting with scrap metal in his spare time as overseer in a troopship during the Second World War. He opened shop first in New York in the late 1940s followed by boutiques in other US centres. He sold in London through Fortnum and Mason; in 1961 he lent through Fortnum’s five jewels to the International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery at Goldsmiths’ Hall. London made a considerable impact on him, as he exported a London taxi to drive around New York and took to Savile Row tailoring. His clients included leading society women such as Barbara Hutton; the collector Georgia Manney; and celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and the artist, Andy Warhol.

Arthur King’s characteristic style of working, in which he mounts gemstones in cast sculptural gold settings which curl up and flow around the stones, is also shown to advantage on an extraordinary brooch from around 1970 in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The openwork setting shows off cross- sections of watermelon tourmaline which are held in claw fittings. The result is a one-off jewel of originality and distinction.

Rings above reading clockwise from left:
William George Haendel (1923–2020)
Ring, c1961, silver gilt, inlaid with particles of different coloured golds
Ring, c1961, silver, inlaid with niello
Ring, c1961, silver, inlaid with niello
These rings were included in the ‘International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890–1961’ held at Goldsmiths’ Hall.

The American maker William Haendel (1923–2020) is best remembered now as a graphic artist and sculptor in cast paper. However, he studied metalwork with Professor Arthur Vierthaler (who was also to teach jewellery design to Marjorie Schick) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his earliest work from 1956 was in jewellery. His rings from the 1961 ‘International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery’, with their subtle use of niello and their sculptural form, testify to his research as a Fulbright Scholar at the Royal College of Art in 1960–61 into silversmithing and sculpture, including niello and granulation techniques. As he wrote in 1959: “Belief in the idea that man has an innate desire to embellish all surfaces with some sort of textures or design has led me to do a great deal of experimentation in surface fusion, combination of wood and metal, niello design, and experiments with silver granulation.” He went on to become Professor of Sculpture at Northern Illinois University, De Kalb.

Ring above:
Irena Brynner (1917–2002)
Ring, c.1971
18 carat gold, baroque pearl and cabochon sapphires

Irena Brynner’s bold, organic ring, which celebrates the sensuous shapes of a baroque pearl and two cabochon sapphires, is a triumph of three-dimensional design, intended to be appreciated from every angle. It reflects the fact that Brynner was a talented sculptor as well as a celebrated jeweller, painter and musician. Brynner was born in Russia and lived in China before studying art in Switzerland. She emigrated to America in 1946 and was inspired to make jewellery when she saw a necklace by American artist Claire Falkenstein; ‘it was free, it was beautiful, it was sculpture. No compromises to make, just the challenge to scale the sculpture and relate it to the human body, instead of space or architecture.’ In collaboration with American studio jewellers such as Merry Renk and Margaret De Patta, Brynner promoted the idea of jewellery as an art form. She spent the latter part of her career in New York and became one of the most celebrated American jewellers of the twentieth century.

Listen to an oral history with Irena Brynner interviewed by Arline M. Fisch here.